Hey there, Plotaholics! Shane here.
Art has long had the problem of how to represent reality. Thinkers as far back as Plato discussed how art–as close as it gets to reality–is still just a representation of the real.
Jean Baudrillard theorized that, in a postmodern world, the simulation of a thing often precedes or supersedes the reality of the thing. Postmodern culture is fascinated (fixated?) on simulations of the real, and in most cases, a simulation can offer only a passing resemblance of what is being simulated. Reality TV is only reality in the hands of story supervisors. Disney’s Epcot is the skin of international cultures without the depth. And escape rooms are the essence of fear and anxiety without real consequence.
I would argue that the found-footage horror film is an artifact of this same cultural moment–the desire to be as close as possible to something without actually being there. Found footage films like The Blair Witch Project use the declaration that they are made up of tapes or footage that has been found by someone who did not make or record the footage has long been a device used to establish a level of verisimilitude that does not (cannot) exist in other, more traditional horror narratives. When we watch The Exorcist, we know we are watching a movie–a work of fiction. When we watch the best examples of found footage, we also know we are watching a movie, but there is a small chance that we aren’t. It’s a closer simulation to a reality that could (somehow) exist.
Enter, Butterfly Kisses.
Butterfly Kisses is presented as a documentary that follows a filmmaker who has discovered a box full of tapes. Those tapes contain raw footage of a student film. The students making that film were trying to prove a local urban legend–the legend of Peeping Tom–was actually true. The filmmaker who discovers these tapes has hired the documentary crew to follow him around as he tries to prove the validity of the tapes. All the while, he is losing his mind. The trailer will help clear up any confusion over this (admittedly) convoluted synopsis.
Found footage is a sub-genre that is, admittedly, long in the tooth. Telling a fresh story in this mode can be tough, but Butterfly Kisses succeeds in finding a way to further blur the lines between reality and simulation/ fiction. Erik Kristopher Meyers is the real-life writer/ director of the film, and he also stars as the documentarian. He is a real-life filmmaker who goes by his real name in the movie where he plays a filmmaker trying to help the other filmmaker in the movie solve the mystery of these tapes.
Additionally, it is rare that we meet the people who find the found footage. We do get that opportunity here, in Gavin Yorke–the semi-professional wedding videographer who wants (desperately) to be a “serious” filmmaker. Yorke is dead set on proving the authenticity of the tapes he has found.
So there are two additional levels to the smoke and mirrors here. Not only do we get to watch the found footage, we get to see the guy who found the footage struggle to validate it, and we get to meet the film crew who is following him around to make sure he validates it in the right fashion.
The driving force of this film is cynicism. Look at the comments section for any found footage trailer on YouTube (including this one) and see how many people take pride in “cracking the case.”
The inclusion of one of these people in the film as a character–in the form of Meyers’s skeptical documentarian–is the brilliant new stroke this subgenre needs. The skeptics in the audience need to be represented on the screen, and the only way to do that is to zoom out of the found footage and present the world around it. And the only way to do that effectively is to present the resulting film as a documentary–a form we culturally expect to tell us the truth. The result here is something that feels suddenly closer to reality than simulation, and as complicated as the story is to convey in this medium, Meyers and his crew have done an excellent job telling this story on film.
I give Butterfly Kisses the best-possible Plotaholics rating: 0/5 shots. No booze needed to watch this thing. It’s a thinker of a horror film. It’s well-paced, and well shot. Butterfly Kisses is an otherworldly concept that is executed with grace and punch. Give this thing a chance if you have any love for found-footage. Its goals are not to scare us, necessarily (though it does). Its goals are to show us other people’s fear, and at that, it succeeds tremendously. In that way, it’s as close to an authentic horror experience as you can get on film.
Butterfly Kisses celebrates its one-year anniversary today (10/23), and it can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
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